Written by Sarah Khan
A driver with the Centralised Ambulance and Trauma Services (CATS) tried to set himself on fire outside Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence Monday. Rajan Kumar, along with hundreds of other employees, has been protesting since Saturday against privatisation of CATS and alleged non-payment of salaries for the past three months.
“I tried to set myself on fire but was stopped by my colleagues. I am the sole breadwinner of my family of six,” said Kumar, who has been working with CATS for the past eight years.
CATS ambulances are emergency response services managed by the Delhi government through a helpline number, 102.
There are 265 ambulances in the fleet and they attend to 1,100-1,200 calls on a daily basis. On Monday, only half of them were operational.
The government had outsourced the operation and maintenance of the ambulance services to a private company in 2006 for better management of services.
Jitendra Kaushik, president of CATS staff union, demanded that the services shouldn’t be outsourced and should be controlled by employees. “Close to 800-1,000 employees haven’t received their salaries. The administration blames the company whereas the company blames the government for not paying them. We are the ones who have to suffer,” he claimed.
“We are trying to restore ambulance services at the earliest. The problem took place after the outsourcing agency was replaced recently. A new agency has been hired and we are in the process of hiring manpower and releasing salaries,” L R Rana, administrative officer, CATS, told The Indian Express.
Narendra Lakhra, another employee at the protest, expressed anger over “arbitrary rules”. “They want us to work for 12 hours and are paying skilled workers the same salary as semi-skilled. They have reduced our salary by Rs 3,000,” he claimed.
Sanjeev Khirwar, secretary (health), Delhi government, said: “I have called a meeting with the drivers on Tuesday. This is a transition period in which CATS ambulances services are moving from one company to another. Drivers were getting their salaries on merit basis from the previous company.”
(The writer is an intern with The Indian Express)